If you don't mind trying an unusual home-improvement project, how about a polystyrene-stucco treatment of a ceiling or wall. Use a proudct such as Dow Chemical's Styrofoam-brand insulation, or equal.
It's easy to do the first two steps yourself, but a professional should be hired for the final third step.
Check building codes in your area before proceeding.
Styrofoam-brand insulation is very lighweight and is inexpensive. It comes in different thicknesses (in 4-by-8-foot sheets) but three-quarter inch will serve our purpose here.
First, glue or nail the insulation to the surface, using nails with extra large heads to prevent pullout. Tap them in without crushing the sheathing.
Then trowel on a mortar mix that contains fiberglass. Surewall and Quickwall are two name brands sold nationwide. Trowel the seams well for saturation. One good coat will deal the sheathing with a hard "stucco" surface that's very though but unfinished looking. Get it as smooth as you can.
Next, a stucco design must be applied, using inexpensive joint compound that is used to spackle sheetrock. Have a professional drywall person do this chore and make sure he (or she) knows exactly what kind of texture you want.
The ceiling can have exposed wood-look beams, which can be easily applied before the final third step. Or you can trim a wall in an English Tudor design by using 1x3-inch strips of wood.
The drywall texture must be done after the trim is carefully nailed in place.
This method is perfect for houses with flat roof areas that have little or no insulation. Even three-inch-thick insulation sheathing can be used. Designed ceilings for basement rooms can be put up very inexpensively this way.
A new building trend calls for polystyrene-stucco to remodel the outside of buildings, too. I've talked with workmen who resurfaced a bank this way. At first I was skeptical about the idea. Of course, a different mortar is used and mesh wire has to be put up. But I was assured that the surface can handle any normal punishment and the surface, painted a rich golden brown, was beautiful.
An excellent book entitled "Energy Saving Projects You Can Build" is put out by Better Homes and Gardens. It has ideas for decks, awnings, decorative whole-wall panels, entry locks, and other projects that help save energy.
If you enjoy carpentry as a hobby, you'll be inspired by the complete building plans in the book. How can a deck help save energy? The authors explaint how a deck, combined with a sun-screening wooden canopy and a louvered built-in windbreak, can ward off winds in the winter and shade the house in the summer.
If you don't have any shade trees, the deck will be somewhat of a substitute.
Speaking of windbreaks, they can be a wooden wall or a decorative partition that wraps around your home's entry area. Harsh winds will hit a windbreak, turn a "somersault," and move upward away from your house.
Energy experts have demonstrated this action by using smoke to see how the wind behaves when it strikes a barrier wall.
If you don't think it's all that important to keep winds away, keep in mind that a study in St. Paul, Minn., proved that on a typical house, with average insulation, 40 percent of every heating dollar is spent heating outside air that manages to get inside.
Dozens of pamphlets for projects, such as solar glass walls, insulated decorative shutters that fold over windows outside the house, and greenhouses as solar collectors are available free by writing to the National Solar Heating and Cooloing Center, PO Box 1607, Rockville, Md. 20850. The center will mail you an extensive list of booklets which are available for the asking.
Aim for projects that will help the resale value of your house.
Much of this will depend on what part of the country you live in and what people in your area find most desirable in a house.
Perhaps you should talk with a real-estate broker. He or she will probably tell you the main thing is for any project to look professional. The craftsmanship must impress future buyers, and the project should blend with the overall structure.
If you can manage to prove your heating and cooling bills are somewhat lower because of the project , this would be ideal.